The Antique Sisterhood: Sixpence in Her Shoe

The Antique Sisterhood: Sixpence in Her Shoe


Sitting int he lobby at Bass Pro Shop while Dom picks up some campling supplies and takes the kids to see the fish. I got to sit on a comfy couch and put my feet up, listen to the soothing sounds of seagulls and ocean waves, and read a bit in my book. I was highlighting passages to blog with the yellow crayon stub that was the only writing implement I could find in the diaper bag.

After our discussion of literary portrayals of marriage, I thought of a perfect book to add to the list. It’s non fiction, in fact, a memoir. But it certainly takes a healthy look at marriage and motherhood. And is seriously funny. I pulled it off my shelf to look through it and found myself absorbed in the first chapter. And then wanting to underline and underline and underline. Really I want to type out the whole first two chapters to share here.

The book is Sixpence in Her Shoe
by Phyllis McGinley, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, essayist, and novelist, a celebration of the housewife and domesticity.

And here are a couple of my favorite bits:

There is something soothing about the thought that I am one of an enormous, an antique sisterhood, each of us bent on much the same ends, all of us doing our able or our fumbling best to hold the planet steady on its axis by such primitive expedients as hanging window curtains, bandaging knees, or getting meals to the table on time.

Because we are so many, we are sometimes downgraded in our own eyes. We form no unions, belong to no professional organizations. We do not federate, lobby in the Senate, go on strike, scream for shorter working days, or establish corporations. Our homes are peculiar, our wages irregular. Few honors come to us in the shape of scrolls or Doctorates or Chairmanships of Foundations named with our names. If we have any public status apart from that which our husbands’ abilities bring us, it is limited and local. Nobody has so far received a Pulitzer Prize for contriving a poetic boiled custard, in spite of the fact (which I know from experience) that it is a feat less easy to perform that writing a ballade. The Nobel Committee has yet to award any laurels to a woman simply for making her home a place of such peace and delight that her family might rightfully rise up and call her blessed—if such an odd notion ever occurred to them.

Nevertheless, ours is a true profession, ancient honorable, and unique. Compared to it, all other careers are upstarts, Johnny-come-latelies.

We may be merely directing servants and altering flower arrangements. Or we may be weaving the very wool which goes into the family blankets. It is all one. On us rests the burden (and the glory) of seeing to it that the pot boils, the table is set, the sheets gets changed, the babies remain healthy, a light shines in the window after dark, and there is refreshment for body and spirit waiting at the day’s end.

Our tools change, of course, The besom gives way to the vacuum cleaner. We have carpets and linoleum in place of rushes or sand. Instead of the open-hearth spit, we have pressure cookers, thermostat-controlled ovens, and the milkman smiling at the door. The hired girl, willing and ubiquitous has vanished, and that is no improvement. But at least we do now own a small army of electrical assistants. [. . .] Still the goals and the goods which it is our privilege to achieve on earth do not alter. They are the ones Naomi confided to Ruth, Joan worked for her Darby, and Eve undoubtedly understood.

All this being granted, one would think we should be constantly counting over our good fortune like beads. Our lineage noble, our aims important, we might seem to have little cause for discontent. Yet pride does not dwell in us as it should. [. . .] Doctors are on the whole happy to be doctors. Professors boast of their callings. Realtors lunch together and make complimentary speeches concerning their careers. But the housewives I encounter often go about with an injured air, complaining of their limitations rather than their benefits.


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